My therapist brings up Ghost Ship all the time in therapy. She’s one of those people who saw it from the outside and experienced the ripple effects of that event in our community without being personally linked to any of the victims.
Me? I lost my friend Donna, who was my best friend when I first moved out of my mom’s house and into Oakland. We worked at Mars Vintage on Telegraph in 2006. She was one of those formative friends – I was 18, and she was 22 and so much cooler than me.
When I met Donna, Oakland was starkly different from the city it is today. In 2006, I lived in a warehouse in West Oakland across from a truck stop that housed raves every weekend but has now been converted into condos. I paid $250 a month to live there and used the underage bus pass to travel between home and work.
There are small things that remind me about Donna every day. She had bright red hair and a dingy red truck, and she used to play Mac Dre’s “Too Hard for the Fucking Radio” on one of his original release cassettes. We used to drink Taaka vodka and make weird art at her house. She made me throat coat tea whenever I was sick at work. We’d ride our bikes to LoBot and get shitty drunk in the middle of the street.
After I moved to San Francisco in 2008, we didn’t hang out as much. We stayed in touch over the years, consistently but infrequently. Right before the fire, I had been hospitalized and she had texted me to say we should hang out. I said, “Yes,” I wanted to hang out, but I had been too sick to really make plans with people. That was the last conversation we had before she died.
We all remember what happened that day. Where we were when we found out. What it felt like to see familiar names on the list of missing people. That’s not what I want to dwell on.
Here we are, more than six months later, and I’m trying to swallow everything that has happened, still. When I was sitting in my therapist’s office, she asked me, “What does this community need to heal?”
In some ways, I don’t know how this community can ever heal. This is a tragedy that exploded into national headlines and empty political causes. It became a spectacle from which we all became removed. People talked vaguely about the arts community. People don’t talk about the arts community anymore.
Instead, here we are, and this city feels toxic. Like we were promised some sort of healing for our pain, but that healing never came. Pain is so exhausting. This collective trauma has been damning.
It’s not just Ghost Ship that has made us all feel defeated. It’s the political climate that reminds of us how dangerous this world is. It’s the fact that we still can’t afford to be here. The community that we have had for the last ten years is disintegrating. The feeling of powerlessness is overwhelming.
All I want is one small victory. All I want is one moment of relief, to feel like things are going to be okay. To feel like we have each other not in united tragedy but in collective triumph. Oakland found its voice in the tragedy of Oscar Grant in 2009, and by the time Occupy Oakland came to fruition in 2011 and 2012, we were going full swing. Back then it felt like things were happening. Black Lives Matter became a uniting cause shortly thereafter as we took to the streets to protest police brutality. But somewhere along the lines, we started to lose the class war. These seemingly impossible causes made headway in national headlines, but now here we are in 2017 and no one can hear us scream anymore.
Now more than ever we need each other. Things were rough before, but now we are in the shits. The sense of collective despair in this town is stifling. As this city continues to grow economically, we still see sprawling homeless encampments that are now the victims of arson. People are quietly leaving left and right – people who are from here, people who participated in the culture of art and protest here.
I am willing to fight until my last death rattle. I don’t have a lot of fight in me right now, but I still have something left. I am seeking a new solution to my sense of despair and defeat. I can’t do it without you.